Since ancient times food has not only been about eating, but also about sharing. Whether it's the same plate, the same table, or the same central Berlin square; food is an important force for social gathering. Sharing conversations, ideas, laughter, emotions or songs over a meal; food unites hearts. And this is exactly what more than thirty thousand people experienced this weekend in Berlin.
A huge colourful gathering of farmers and people of all ages, with an impressive seventy tractor escort, from all corners of Germany and Europe united under the declaration "We are fed up with agribusiness". They marched in rhythm through the streets of Berlin, right up to Chancellor Merkel's office, expressing their indignation and calling for healthy food and sustainable farming.
Among the crowds marching and mingling were flags and banners of over one hundred organisations, including those representing farmers, beekeepers and consumers, environmental, animal welfare, development and food organisations, as well as public and youth initiatives.
They were united under the common call for shifting agriculture policies away from destructive chemical intensive farming, mass food production and food waste, genetically engineered crops, seed piracy and cruel animal farming towards a more environmental, animal-friendly and socially fair agriculture that ensures food for all. Their message was not only for Chancellor Merkel, but also for all the European agriculture ministers who were also in Berlin – not to march with us, but rather to attend the agricultural fair of the German national green week.
Demonstrators made their point with an entire farmyard of colourful animal costumes. While marching, I spotted cows, pigs, chickens, bees and flowers bearing placards calling for "Farms and Not Factories" , "No Pesticides" , "No GMOs" , "No Cloned Meat"; in short, for healthy and ecological farming, for more support for small scale farmers, for saving the bees, saving the seeds … and much, much more. One notable issue for many of those marching was the new free trade agreement between the US and EU which is threatening to lower European food and agriculture standards to match those of the US.
One hundred and fifty Greenpeace activists were also there, making their protest against GMOs and corporate monopolized agriculture visible, holding up genetically engineered (GE) maize cobs. On one hand, emphasising the message that Europe and Germany should remain GE free and on the other hand, highlighting the fact that, although GE crops may not be grown in Germany, GE animal feed still gets imported; continuing to drive the destructive environmental impacts from growing them in far away places - vast monocultures, deforestation, heavy pesticide use and ever deepening corporate control of farming.
Spirits were high, and you could almost see the movement blossoming before your eyes as people shared their experiences, campaigns and new ideas. Inspired by interventions from such hugely diverse and experienced campaigners and experts as Jochen Fritz, from the German CAP focused umbrella group, Meine Landwirtschaft; Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement and Dr. Hans Herren, co-chair of the respected International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, to name a few. Many no doubt sustained by the Slow Food Youth Network 'disco soup' prepared the night before by hundreds of joyful young hands dancing and cutting vegetables, taking a stand against food waste.
Berlin's annual 'Fed Up with Agribusiness' demonstration has clearly become a trend to watch and is growing every year.
People in Europe and all over the world become more and more conscious that what matters is what they eat, where it comes from and who is in control of farming it, and they are having their say on how their food is produced. It is a global food movement which demands alternative solutions to produce food – such as small scale ecological farming. A modern solution that is in our hands.
As Carlo Petrini so eloquently put it in his closing speech, "Small scale farming is not anti-progress, poor or underdeveloped. It is a sustainable agricultural model that uses natural and human resources respectfully and therefore guarantees social and food security."
Myrto Pispini is a freelance food and agriculture activist.